About a year ago I wrote about scams, mainly those against seniors.  I feel compelled to write again since I’ve found some relatively new phone scams, one of which a senior relative of mine was caught up in.

I thought this scam was brand new, but when I talked to some of the seniors that I know, I learned that it has already been around for a few months and is quite prevalent.  A person calls you up and tells you that if you have Medicare, you can get a back brace for free.  Now what senior doesn’t have Medicare?  And what senior doesn’t have some type of back pain?

Sometimes the caller will use the name of an actual company and sometimes just the name of one that sounds real.  The catch is that the phone number they give you is not the number to any actual company.

Once they’ve got you on the phone, the person will explain all the marvelous benefits of the brace.  And since you have Medicare, you don’t have to pay a thing.  You just have to give him the last four digits of your social security number.  You have to do what!?! If not before, that’s when a humongous red flag should go up.  No company should be asking for any part of your social security number over the phone.

If they called you, that means they have not only your name and phone number, but probably also your address – all the things needed to “check your identification” when calling your bank to move money, etc.

So, what do you do if this happens to you or a loved one?  You need to contact the financial institutions that you deal with.  Let them know what happened.  They can put an alert on your account or add additional security such as a secondary password.  You should also call one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion).  They have an automated service that will put an alert on your account and let you know if anyone is trying to access your credit.

The other question is: how could you have prevented this to begin with?  That is a harder question because it deals with the nature of seniors.  One habit that they have to break is the need to always answer the phone.  I’ve found this extremely difficult for many seniors.  They just have to know who’s calling them.

Getting a phone (and the service) with Caller ID will help.  But that doesn’t always work because of 800 numbers and cell phones.  So the other thing the new phone needs is memory.  Enter everyone’s cell phone number into the memory.  That way, when the senior looks at the ID, it will say “Bill’s Cell” and not just the phone number.

The third thing the phone needs is a voicemail system that even the least tech-savvy senior can operate.  Many seniors will never use a system where they have to dial into the service to retrieve their messages.  My philosophy is that if someone really wants to speak to me, they’ll leave a message.  But, as I’ll show in a minute, you do have to be a bit leery with voicemails also.

Another suggestion is to get a phone that actually speaks and says who’s calling.  It’s a neat little feature, but the text to voice conversion is not always the greatest.

The biggest thing is to get your loved one to understand that if they do not know who’s calling, DON’T pick up the phone.  Let it go to voicemail.

This brings me to another scam that isn’t limited to seniors – in fact, many attorneys at our firm have gotten this call, myself included.  I received the call on my home phone from someone claiming to be from the IRS.  He said that I owed back taxes and would be arrested if I did not call back to settle my account.  The caller ID was just some random number so I didn’t answer.  The reason that I know about it is that they left a voicemail.  No, I did not call back.  I simply erased the message and never heard from them again.

The fear of being arrested is pretty strong.  This can be even truer for seniors who grew up in other countries.  You need to assure them that the IRS does not call you on the phone and they certainly don’t arrest people for owing taxes.

I could go on and on as there are many more scams out there.  Most of them prey on the senior’s fears, love of their children or grandchildren, or their innocence in thinking that something is for free.  As hard as it is to say, help your loved ones understand that the world we live in is just not that way.